HUD Chief Jackson on African-American Summit

Hundreds of prominent black civic and religious leaders converged on Washington, D.C., this week for the third-annual African American Leadership Summit. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, the keynote speaker, tells Ed Gordon about the conference.

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ED GORDON, host:

Black civic and religious leaders from around the country met yesterday in Washington, D.C. for the third annual African American Leadership Summit organized by Republican Senator K. Bailey Hutchinson. The gathering was meant to raise awareness of issues of importance to African Americans and people of color. Alphonso Jackson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development delivered the Summit's keynote address, and he is with us now in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Mr. Secretary, always good to see you.

Mr. ALPHONSO JACKSON (U.S. Secretary, Housing and Urban Development): Ed, thank you so much for having me on the show.

GORDON: Talk to me about what you put forth yesterday.

Mr. JACKSON: In speaking to the group, which was about 450 black Americans from around the country, I specifically spoke of the president's housing policy, that is which emphasized home ownership. The president challenged us in June of 2002, to create 5.5 million new minority homeowners, specifically black and Hispanic. As of today, we've created 2.6 million of them. We will reach that goal before 2010.

But I also talked about how important it was for us to give home to young black males and females in this country, because we have too many today that are incarcerated or too many that are in trouble. And I said that we must begin to take responsibility for mentoring at least one black male or female during our lifetime to help them really grown.

The other message that I gave is simply this, that we're the freest people of color on the face of the earth; and that I believe that this president has demonstrated his commitment to all people, but specifically black Americans in the sense that we've had four black cabinet members. But today sitting in the cabinet we have two Asians, two Hispanics and two blacks, which amounts to about half of the cabinet. So he is committed to minorities in this country. And so I specifically said that to them.

GORDON: All right, Mr. Secretary, you know I've got to go here. There are a lot of people who are going to say that's fine for the cabinet; that's fine for the individuals; and it's a good symbolism for not only this administration, but America. But when you take a look at the educational system today, particularly in large urban areas, when you take a look at--and we hear the president talk about the upswing in the economy--you and I talked about this off mike. For full disclosure, we should talk about it now--the idea that African Americans are not on a whole finding this upswing in the economy.

What of these issues--people are looking to the White House and saying, no, you've forgotten us.

Mr. JACKSON: I think, Ed, when we say that--I was asked that question at a major university, are black Americans worse off today than they were 40 years ago? And my answer to that question is which group of black Americans are you talking about? You and I are. If you're talking about public housing residents, now they're not. We are not a monolithic group of people. Yeah, blacks are really at the lower blacks of the economy, but some of us are at the very high level. And more of us today are at a higher level than we were 10 years ago, five years ago. So it's which group of black Americans are you talking about.

The other thing that I think is so important that you brought up is education. The president is really zooming on the low expectations that we have of black Americans, Hispanic Americans in this country. We can't have that. We have to have the same expectation as we do for everyone else. One of the reasons today that my wife is not teaching--she taught for 10 years--is because she was teaching in a predominantly black and Hispanic school. And, we adopted the school when I was running the utility company. She was bringing work in. The principal brought her in and asked her, why are you bringing work in for these kids, because you're embarrassing your colleagues. But that principal was not white. That principal was black.

And at that point and time, he told her, don't be bringing extra work in. I told her to quit, because she was trying to do what should be done in the school. If we didn't have the books, we still should work with kids.

GORDON: When you take a look at the numbers--you know them better than I do--that the average African American family earns 10 times less than the average -- the median income of a white family. We have not seen this gap close across the board, forget the Bush administration, the current Bush administration. We have not seen this gap close for years and years and years. People are saying that much of what we hear out of Washington, D.C. from the Republicans and Democrats is rhetoric, and we're dying out here.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I think this, President Bush and I understand that, and we just talked a few minutes ago about your city that you are from, Detroit. I've had a chance to really work with this mayor that you have in Detroit. We've added additional funds, but from Community Development Block Grant, and from other programs, because clearly, Detroit is a city that is in need. And it doesn't make any difference that Mayor Kilpatrick is a Democrat. Mayor Kilpatrick cares about the city, and the president has said, when you find someone who cares about a city, we work with them.

We work with John Street in Philadelphia; we work with Mayor Daley. We are working. But let me go back to the question you asked. I do think economically black Americans are better off in many cases than they were 10 years or five years ago because you have a larger middle class base than you had 10 years ago. Now, Now, do you, do we still have poverty? And deep poverty? Yes, we do. But I think we make too much...

GORDON: That middle class base is on very slippery ground, though. You know that.

Mr. JACKSON: But it isn't. It isn't on a slippery ground.

GORDON: Oh, they live check to check too.

Mr. JACKSON: No, they don't.

GORDON: Yeah, they do.

Mr. JACKSON: Many of us don't, Ed. Many of us don't.

GORDON: Some of us don't.

Mr. JACKSON: No, many of us do--don't. But they only live that if they overextend themselves. Now, you and I are economists, so we understand how to save some money. As my father used to say, you should save a dime of every dollar that you make.

But I'm saying to you, we are much better off. But if you're talking about a public housing resident, no they're not. They're probably worse off today then they were.

GORDON: Mr. Secretary, you know, and you mentioned it to me when we talked about the meeting, there are going to be those who say that this is--the gathering was not black, quote, leadership. It wasn't the traditional black leadership, that these were just a bunch of conservatives who met and are trying to push that agenda.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I wish that was the case because some of the questions that were posed to me would not have been posed if they were black conservatives, and one of the things that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison wanted to do was to bring people in to find out what is affecting them and how they think they can really make a change in this community, and some of the questions that came to me were very difficult because they didn't necessarily believe that President Bush was doing everything for black America.

GORDON: So what comes out of this summit?

Mr. JACKSON: I think what comes out of this summit is the ability to go back and say that there are people who are really interested in listening to what we have to say and are willing to make changes, and that's exactly what Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Senator Santorum wants to do. They said let's hear, let's see what is the problem, and let's try to work on those problems, and I applaud Senator Hutchison for doing this because, you know, really, she has no problem at all being reelected but to bring together 450 black leaders from around this country--and let me…

GORDON: Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this because we're down to about a minute and a half. In terms of black leadership, that's fine. Rick Santorum was there. Kay Bailey Hutchison. What about black leadership, right and left wing? It seems like you guys can't often get together because if we're going to fix this, it seems like we need a united front on both sides.

Mr. JACKSON: Ed, that… I will tell you, that's a legitimate question. I wish I could tell you about the Julian Bonds, or the Kwazi Mfumes, or the Al Sharptons. I have no problems with these people; they have problems with us. I haven't called them names. Condoleezza Rice has not called them names, but they've called us vicious names. They've said that we can't think. They said we don't have the ability to be independent, which is absolutely nonsense. But you can't get someone...

GORDON: Have you ever reached out to any of them?

Mr. JACKSON: Oh, yes. You can't get them together, unless they respect you as a human being.

GORDON: And you believe that they solely don't? Collectively.

Mr. JACKSON: Sometimes I do believe that. Collectively they don't. You know, I respect them as human beings and as black Americans who have made great progress for us in this country. And I'm willing to sit down with them, but I am not going to sit down with Harry Belafonte when he calls me a vicious name. I don't think that's appropriate.

GORDON: Maybe we'll see if we can't do a special roundtable and pull some of you guys together and see if we can start some dialog.

Mr. JACKSON: I'd love to start it--but on a productive basis.

GORDON: Mr. Secretary--indeed. Mr. Secretary, as always, we thank you for being a part of this program. You always come through for us, and we appreciate it.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you very much, Ed.

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